Media and body image

The issue of media control is an increasing source of controversy around the world today. The media holds a great deal of responsibility for disseminating facts, teaching, and entertaining people, and whatever they show has an effect on how people view their body image. Every day, adults and children are introduced to the internet, and what they see confirms their understanding of what appearance is. The media has distorted the perception of femininity and masculinity by commercials, hiring anchors, magazine covers, and social media habits. The aim of this research paper is to examine how the media affects how people see their bodies, as well as the negative effects it has. The study will be of significance to the general public and health personnel as awareness will be created on media influence and body image. I will delve into the three psychological theories that elucidate how people are affected by media images differently i.e. the self-schema theory, the social comparison theory, and the self-discrepancy theory. With increasing coverage of the media today, a lot of people suffer the negative effects of constant exposure to ideal images by the media. Individuals develop a negative perception of their bodies when they compare to the images shown on various media channels. Individuals may develop eating disorders, be dissatisfied with their bodies, have low self-esteem and be obsessed with their appearance.


In recent years, the issue of media and its effect on body images has gained a lot of concern around the globe. Not only the public is concerned but also very many researchers in different disciplines. Very many researchers have a consensus that mass media have partial responsibility for causing widespread unhealthy attitudes and bodily discontentment among men and women in the society (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Media includes print, television, radio, social media and online articles. The media is a very fundamental tool of entertainment, communication, and information. A lot of revenue the media generates is from advertisements; therefore, they tailor their content such that they use ideal body images for marketing and appeal. It is common to find images and advertisements that are tailored to have people that have certain body shapes i.e. thin women and muscled people. Such images are continually being circulated and subconsciously people find that they internalize such images to be ideal (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Body image is how persons perceive they are on their physical outlook. Body image comes about when a person makes a comparison to how other people are. By making comparisons and deeming themselves as substandard, people can develop eating complications, be depressed, dissatisfied, and have low self-esteem. Body image influences many other areas of an individual's life (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Although leading a healthy life and having a healthy body are the modern trend, mass media portrayal of a perfect image continually produces negative effects on body image by increasing obsession with appearance, eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

Problem Statement

The media is charged with the great responsibility of portraying society and whatever it shows has an impact on body image. Adults and children are exposed to the media every day and what they see encourages their idea of what beauty is all about. According to the study carried out by the star online media, one in every ten young girls in Malaysia has a high chance of succumbing to eating disorders because of pressure from the media. By continually looking at the thin images the media portrays in their advertisements and programs, people are wired to think that being thin is fashionable and trendy and will try all means to achieve the thin bodies. Young women especially teenagers are very self-conscious and may end up adopting crazy eating habits to lose weight (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). An estimated 60000 persons in Britain suffer from eating disorders. Two percent of women aged between fifteen to thirty years suffer from an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa and fifteen to twenty percent of the women will die in the next twenty years (Cash & Smolak, 2011). Such statistics are very alarming as it shows the great impact media has in influencing people to aspire to be thin using unhealthy means. Singapore has witnessed a rise of instances of eating disorders in the last ten years. These statistics show those body image standards set by the media influence people around the world and are not only a preserve of the Western countries (Shrum, 2012). Therefore, the need for this research is to help create awareness in people on how the media affects their perception/judgment towards their bodies.

Purpose of the Research Paper

The purpose of the research paper is to evaluate how the media influences how people perceive their bodies and the negative impact it causes. The media channels the ideal body that most people covet to have as thin/slender. The portrayal of thin images has a negative impact on both children and adults as they have unrealistic views of their bodies. There are several indicators that may show one has a negative body image. The symptoms include a person constantly comparing their bodies to other people's bodies, obsessive examination of themselves in mirrors, and persistent thinking about the negative comments that people make about their bodies. Other indicators may include obsession about celebrities' bodies and envy of other people's body be it of friends or public figures. In recent times, people are getting more and more concerned about their overall appearance and body image (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Many people are not satisfied with how they look compared to what the media portrays. In the United States, approximately 40% of women are dissatisfied with their body image. According to another research, men who have had exposure to magazine images tend to have higher dissatisfaction with how they perceive their bodies to be. This goes on to show that not only women are dissatisfied with their bodies, but also men are image conscious. From the statistics shared above, it is clear to see that the media plays a great role in shaping how people perceive themselves (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). Media is the means through which people get to see advertisements, promotions, and information. Advertisements, social networking sites, movies, dramas and online videos are part of an ordinary person everyday life. It is estimated that a person spends at least 669 minutes on media daily. 669 minutes is equal to 11.15 hours, which translates to nearly half a day. That is a lot of time spent on media and that goes to show how media is very influential in our society today.

Significance of the Study

The role of media in influencing how individuals perceive their bodies is getting serious by day as it affects their health. When one has an unhealthy perspective of their body, it may contribute to lower self-esteem and depression. It is important to have a positive judgment of the body in order to prevent psychological problems including eating disorders like bulimia; anorexia etc. (Bell & Dittmar, 2011).This study is of importance because it helps people to understand how the media distorts and alters the psychology. Through this study, awareness will be created on how individuals perceive their body image. The study is also significant to medical personnel as it helps them to gain understanding on how the media influences ultra-thin body obsession leading to health problems such as weight issues and eating disorders. By gaining a better understanding of media influence on body image, health care personnel will detect eating disorders' signs and symptoms early hence assisting in quick recovery and lowering death cases. Additionally, this research is useful for pharmacists when they sell weight management products to lower misuse and promote correct use. Media promotes muscularity for men and slimness for women leading to dissatisfaction with their bodies hence in an attempt to conform to media standards many people resort to buying weight control products. Weight control products advertisements are often misleading and if pharmacists are aware then they will advocate for a healthier lifestyle and body positivity.

Body Image

Body image is how persons perceive they are on their physical outlook. Body image comes about when a person makes a comparison to what other people are. A person's body is integral in forming of his identity. Clothes, accessories, body shape, body size, skin, hair, and make-up are all codes of appearance that molds an individual's identity and determine whether they are muscular or feminine. The physical spectacle of both men and women are subjected to gaze each time. Women are more prone to the depiction of ideal bodies than men are. For a woman, the body shape and size is always a major concern, as the thin body frame is what is portrayed as ideal. Men's bodies are usually associated with how they perform and function in relation to activities that are energetic and powerful (Cash & Smolak, 2011).

In addition, a man's image is often used to exude power be it sexual, economic, moral, social, or physical. Despite the huge pressure for women to achieve ideal physical images, men have not been left out in the demands of the beauty culture. Reports have revealed that there has been an increase in a number of anorexic men over the last ten years. Men have resorted to taking steroids to get the muscular body portrayed to be ideal. In the last few years, there has not only been an increase in women beauty products but also men beauty products across the globe. The products are used to enhance physical features and the overall image of a person making them attractive. Fashion and style have also changed over the years and men talk proficiently and openly about beauty products (Cash & Smolak, 2011).

The Media's Depiction of the Perfect Body

In the last few years, the flare-up of mass media has seen an increase in emphasis on the body image. The media is observed to have a tendency of producing an ideal image for women as perfumed, thin, hourglass figure, clothed and with straight hair. This portrayal is far from reality as human beings all over the world are very diverse in the shapes of their body, hair texture, body size, etc. Additionally, the media also produces an ideal male image as muscular. For many years, the media has stylized images of men and women. Advertising is one of the major channels through which people are persistently exposed to ideal body images. The people chosen to grace the adverts are recruited based on outward physical appeal. Simple adverts even of vegetable oil always go for people with flawless skin, thin frames, muscular and well-toned bodies (Levine & Chapman, 2011).

Additionally, the fashion and diet industries continuously promote benefits of having a certain body image in their countless magazines. Media emphasis on body presentation has led to individuals believe in making their images to be attractive and pleasing. Fashion magazines especially women magazines are notorious for giving tips to people on how to achieve the perfect body through slimming teas, and other unrealistic methods. The magazines also only choose models to grace their front covers and display their clothes and accessories (Levine & Chapman, 2011). Furthermore, the motion picture industry is one of the foremost purveyors and creators of body images. The Hollywood craze has created new standards of bodily presentation and appearance generating a notion to the larger audience on the importance of having ideal bodies. Hollywood has projected images and publicized glamorized celebrity lifestyles to the whole world. A glance into a majority of films produced recently show actors that are tall, muscular and well-toned. Actors, on the other hand, have long straight hair, well-toned, curvy, and thin frames (Levine & Chapman, 2011).

Moreover, apart from their academic qualifications television anchors are also recruited based on how they look. A look into most television networks during prime time news coverage shows women that are petite, light skin and have long hair. The male news anchors are also well shaven, well-toned and have slim fit muscular stature. Additionally, social media has also been on the rise in the past few years with very many people opening accounts in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and MySpace. People are able to see other people's photos, upload their own in their social media accounts, and get likes/comments from people who admire their photos (Bair et al., 2012). Most of the time, people with petite, curvy, long hair, muscular and well-toned bodies are the ones with most likes. The people who have different bodies compared to the ideal ones are often ridiculed and even cyber bullied because of their looks. They also get fewer likes/comments because their body images are not ideal. Moreover, there has been an increase of reality and makeover shows which portray characters with certain body shapes. The reality television actors are obsessed with how they look with most of them idolizing thin frames. Some reality shows have normalized cosmetic surgery in an effort to get the perfect body (Levine & Chapman, 2011).

How the Media impinges on Body Image as Explained by Diverse Psychological Theories

Exposure to the media does not always change an individual’s notion of body image. Almost every person is exposed to media images but the impact is not the same. Some are resistant however strong the media messages are while others react strongly and quickly to beauty images. Individual traits attributes to the differences in the reactions. Persons who are physically heavier, esteem appearance and overly self-conscious are more swayed by the media images. The media effects on people occur in three distinctive areas i.e. pressure, internalization, and awareness. First, an individual is aware that the media promotes a certain body image. They then internalize the ideal image in relation to their reality. The individual then finally feel pressured to conform to the ideal image by the media. Not everyone is affected in the three areas; some may be aware but will not internalize the ideal image. People who internalize the media images are highly likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies (Shrum, 2012).

There are three psychological theories that elucidate how people are affected by media images differently. The first theory is the self-schema theory which states that individuals develop self-awareness by choosing the things that make them valuable and unique and arranging those things in schemas. Individuals then use the schemas in processing social encounters. Some folks’ self-schemas give priority to appearance and hence they are inclined to placing importance on messages and images portrayed by media about body image (Shrum, 2012). Furthermore, the second theory is the social comparison theory. Leon Festinger developed this theory in the 1950. The theory states that people compare themselves with other people to evaluate themselves. People do not only compare themselves when they meet with others physically but also when they view media images. In addition, the third theory is the self-discrepancy theory. This theory states that individuals have an idealized image conceptualized by the media of who they would like to be. When there are discrepancies between their idealized image and their perceptions of themselves, then they become stressed and unhappy (Shrum, 2012).

The Harmful Consequences the Media has on How People Perceive Themselves

With increasing impact of the media in the day-to-day lives, more and more people suffer the negative effects of constant exposure to ideal images by the media. Individuals develop a negative perception of their bodies when they compare to the images shown on television, magazines, social media, films, posters etc. One of the harmful impacts is eating disorders. Eating disorders are psychological conditions that manifest in an individual eating too much or excessively little than what is required to attain a certain body image (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

The eating disorders include nocturnal eating pattern, purging disorder, binge eating, pica, bulimia, rumination disorder, anorexia and avoidant food intake disorder. The images splashed across fashion magazines of models and the articles on those magazines that promote fad dieting negatively influences individuals. Teenagers are mostly prone to eating disorders because they are at an age where they are growing up and the many body changes happening to them make them self-conscious. They will want to be like the celebrities they idolize and will end up using unhealthy ways to lose weight such as starving (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

The discrepancies in their comparison of their bodies and the ideal body often lead to unpleasant emotions and they end up abusing and misusing food. Additionally, there are websites that encourage individuals to practice health-harming behaviors to be thin. When people visit such websites they can have a negative perception of their bodies and desire to be skinny. In addition, the models and celebrities shown in the media that persons look up to have disclosed they suffer from eating disorders. Young people whom look up to them may pick up the same habits and risk developing eating disorders (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

Furthermore, an additional harmful impact is body dissatisfaction. The media more often than not portrays the ideal image of women as being perfumed, thin, hourglass figure, clothed and with straight hair. Additionally, the media also produces an ideal male image as muscular. This portrayal is far from reality as human beings all over the world are very diverse in the shapes of their body, hair texture, body size, etc. Individuals who are physically heavier, place value on appearance and those who are overly self-conscious are more swayed by the media images. The thin frame image portrayed is unattainable and as people make comparisons, they will experience discontent with the shape and size of their bodies (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

Moreover, low self-esteem is also a harmful impact. Young people who are always on social media platforms will see their counterparts with ideal bodies gaining more attention than they do hence some may be feeling low. Young women who view the cover models and internalize the images have lower self-esteem because they feel inadequate. Most of the cover photos on magazines are airbrushed but people will still find ways of comparing themselves to those photos and feel inferior. Too much exposure to the media by women on weight loss products piles pressure on them to be something that they are not (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

Furthermore, the media negatively affects people to be excessively preoccupied with their appearance. The reality shows that are aired every so often show celebrities always going to the gym, dieting or having plastic surgery to have perfect bodies. The shows portray being beautiful and thin as a woman's most important qualities. Weight loss products and packages are constantly advertised on magazines and people are obsessed with possessing abs and toned bodies. Constant dieting with fad diets such as seven-day juicing programs promotes unhealthy habits in people. People lose a lot of time being obsessed with their bodies than doing other productive stuff such as developing talents and hobbies (Perse & Lambe, 2016).

However, there are other arguments that defend the media's role in promoting negative body image. Human beings are in charge of the media houses and not robots; therefore, they are prone to make errors, which can be corrected. Additionally, individuals should be in charge of their own minds and not be easily influenced by what the media says. People ultimately have the power to stop reading certain magazines, turn off the news, switch off the computer etc. It is at the power of an individual to choose to follow what they feel is right and leave the negative stuff (Perse & Lambe, 2016).


As technology advances and media gains prominence throughout the world, there has been a concern on its influence in distorting body image. Media does contribute to piling pressure in people to change how they look by internalizing the ideal images shown. The media through advertisements, social media, magazine covers and recruiting of anchors continue to perpetuate the notion that thin is beautiful and muscular is attractive. Young adults who are always exposed to the media internalize such notions and develop unhealthy ways of attaining the ideal body. The three theories of self-schema, social comparison and self-discrepancy explain how the media differently affect people. The media has negative impacts on how individuals perceive themselves. Such impacts include low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, obsession with appearance and eating disorders. It is important that people be aware of how the media negatively influences their perceptions so that they can exercise restraint when viewing. Policies need to be set in place to regulate advertisements and articles that may negatively promote unhealthy image perceptions.


Bair, C. E., Kelly, N. R., Serdar, K. L., & Mazzeo, S. E. (2012). Does the Internet function like magazines? An exploration of image-focused media, eating pathology, and body dissatisfaction. Eating behaviors, 13(4), 398-401.

Bell, B. T., & Dittmar, H. (2011). Does media type matter? The role of identification in adolescent girls’ media consumption and the impact of different thin-ideal media on body image. Sex Roles, 65(7-8), 478.

Cash, T. F., & Smolak, L. (Eds.). (2011). Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention. Guilford Press.

Levine, M. P., & Chapman, K. (2011). Media influences on body image. Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention, 101-109.

Perse, E. M., & Lambe, J. (2016). Media effects and society. Routledge.

Shrum, L. J. (Ed.). (2012). The psychology of entertainment media: Blurring the lines between entertainment and persuasion. Taylor & Francis.

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